On both sides of my family, I have relatives I consider amazing artists. Both sell or sold their paintings and both have pieces on display in galleries. I have one fond memory from a young age going to see my great aunt, Majel Carter’s art exhibition in Three Rivers. I don’t think painting or drawing is a talent (not even a deeply hidden talent) that I possess but I at least like to think I can appreciate the hard work that goes into a piece of art and can somewhat understand why even some small pieces cost a pretty penny.

If you have even a piece or two of art you treasure, it is very important that you consider adequate insurance on these gems. Don’t just assume because you have insurance on your home, condo or business that your artwork will be paid in the event of the loss. Many policies have limitations or exclusions and it is crucial that you discuss artwork coverage with your agent. Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on New York’s art collections and art district. Some reports stated damages over 500 million in art alone from Sandy.

Christian Trabue wrote an interesting article in Claims Journal called "Lost & Found: The Recovery of Stolen Art." More common than a shocking art heist, my clients have frequently suffered losses from water damage or fire/smoke losses to their pieces of art, but as Trabue points out, for as long as there has been art, there have been art thieves.

Consider the activities that took place in Europe during World War II. According to the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal, a website launched by the American Association of Museums, “From the time it came into power in Germany in 1933 through the end of World War II in 1945, the Nazi regime orchestrated a program of theft, confiscation, coercive transfer, looting, pillage and destruction of objects of art and other cultural property in Europe on a massive and unprecedented scale.”

While some objects were eventually recovered, others have never been found or returned. Following this time, museums around the world continued to collect art and artifacts without fully researching their history. As a result, the original owners of some of the pieces began making ownership claims. Today, museums have begun the long and arduous task of researching pieces in their collections, and in some cases returning them to their rightful owners.

More modern day art thefts loss also made headlines just last year when New York City antiquities dealer, Subhash Kapoor,

[A]llegedly raided archaeological sites in Cambodia, Pakistan and India and then used ports of entry to ship the items back to the United States. Of the objects recovered so far, one sandstone sculpture of a woman is said to be worth $15 million.

In January 2014, Darren Agee Merager was sentenced to four years in prison after being convicted of stealing millions of dollars of art from the home of Jeffrey Gundlach, a prominent bond trader. The stolen items, including artwork by Piet Mondrian, Jasper Johns, Joseph Cornell and Richard Diebenkorn, were all eventually recovered.

What is so frustrating about an art loss is that often you can never replace the items. But don’t add insult to injury—have the pieces documented, appraised, and insured.

Here are a few more tips:

  • If art has been stolen the theft should be immediately registered with one of the art loss databases such as the Art Loss Register, Interpol, and the National Stolen Art File, which is run by the FBI.
  • Some insurance companies offer a buy-back provision. If an artwork is stolen and later recovered, this gives the original owner the opportunity to regain title. This can be particularly important if the work of art has gone up in value since the time of the theft. For example, if a painting was stolen when it was worth $50,000 and at the time of recovery it was worth $100,000, the original owner could pay back the insurance company the $50,000 and then retrieve their property now worth the full $100,000.
  • Make sure that you have insurance on the piece after purchase but during transit. Many losses happen before you even have the beautiful art to display.
  • If you have a loss to artwork, make sure you know if the insurance company is properly indemnifying you. Our firm handles damaged and destroyed art losses and hires experts to help ensure the proper evaluation is done on your exquisite piece.

In case you were wanted a sample, here are samples of my favorite family artists. Annette Fink and the late Majel Carter.